Fears, Ambitions, and Dead Ends in 'Bethlehem'

Renée Scolaro Mora

Bethlehem asks, Whose sins need to be redeemed? Who will be the sacrificial lamb? And who will be committing the sacrifice?


Director: Yuval Adler
Cast: Tsahi Halevi, Shadi Mar'i, Hitham Omari, Tarik Kopty, Hisham Suliman
Rated: NR
Studio: Adopt Films
Year: 2013
US date: 2014-03-07 (Limited release)

"Shoot or I'll kick your ass!" screams 17-year-old Sanfur (Shadi Mar'i). Wearing a flak jacket he's found, Sanfur has planned this pivotal

moment during shooting practice, forcing another boy to take aim at him with a Kalashnikov rifle. But for all his cocky posturing, it's plain that Sanfur is also afraid.

While this early scene in Yuval Adler's Bethlehem might seem like a too typical teenaged pissing match, it's obvious too that the stakes are raised here, in the territory ostensibly governed by the Palestinian Authority, but also caught between the competing agendas of Hamas and al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade. While Sanfur wants to be tough, he fears he'll never have the respect showed to his brother Ibrahim (Hisham Suliman). "Your brother is planning something big," one of the boys suggests, the sort of planning that Sanfur can't begin to imagine yet.

Ibrahim is a leader of the Martyrs' Brigade and a local hero, his parents' "only source of pride." Sanfur, on the other hand, is only entrusted with sweeping a shop and running money to his brother as needed. Sanfur feels more important when he's ''Esau," a Palestinian informant for Ravi (Tsahi Halevi), an Israeli Secret Service agent working to infiltrate the multiple factions and stay one step ahead of them all. For two years, he's been giving information to Ravi when asked for it. As a reward, Ravi offers gifts and, importantly, attention.

Though Sanfur originally agreed to help Ravi to get his own father (Tarik Kopty) out of jail, they've since developed a complicated intimacy: Ravi isn't just a source of new jeans and phones, he's increasingly a loving father figure. "I've spent more time with him than my own kids," Ravi says of his informant. But if we're tempted to be sentimental, he goes on to complain about the paperwork he had to fill out to obtain permission to recruit someone under age. It's a reminder that Sanfur is expendable to the Secret Service. Ravi is aware of this, but he still goes out of his way to help the boy when he can.

Ravi's motives are as confused and shifting as anyone else's in Bethlehem. Certainly, no one makes a proposal that is not loaded with implications: one group claims the Palestinian Authority wants a ceasefire so they can save face with foreign powers, particularly the Americans. Another claims Hamas is pulling the strings of al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade to make the Palestinian Authority look weak and out of control. The conflict ratchets up when Ibrahim eventually goes into hiding and all sides want to "claim him", whether as a favorite son or captured bounty.

As the hunt for him grows more intense, Ravi must decide whether to break rank and protect Sanfur, but is he motivated by his feelings for the boy or reluctant to lose a valuable asset? The film indicates that neither side has only one enemy and that unity, as noble as it may sound, is a very subjective notion.

At the center of all these complexities are people whose value and self-identity are never fully their own to craft, but always subject to forces outside themselves. Ibrahim is just as useful to all parties alive or dead. Badawi (Hitham Omari), Ibrahim's second in command, may be capable enough, but as a Bedouin, he faces prejudice. "You think we need Bedouins from who knows where to tell us what's good for Palestine?" taunts Abu Mussa (Karem Shakur), head of the Palestinian Authority. "Your father just learned to wear shoes last week!"

Frustrated as he's cast outside his brother's community, Sanfur never seems to grasp the fact that he is betraying them and his family too when he is Esau. As Sanfur, he is invisible, forgotten. As Esau, he's needed. Or, maybe it's the other way around. Even when Ravi calls, Sanfur can't entirely distance himself from his brother, or the resistance, and so, he plays both sides, proving himself both untrustworthy and unsure of whom he can trust.

In Jewish history, Bethlehem was the place where sacrificial lambs were raised. Bethlehem evokes that tradition through Sanfur's dilemma. Whose sins need to be redeemed? Who will be the lamb? And who will be committing the sacrifice?


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.